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C H A P T E R VIII The Narrator of the Persiles UNLIKE the skillfully conceived triptych of historian (Cide Hamete Benengeli)-translator-editor, who are coherent in all their elusiveness, the narrator whose words we occasionally hear in the Persiles seems to speak with two conflicting voices, which never reach an adequate resolution. In the analysis of the discursive comment which introduces the episode of the counterfeit captives we discovered the simultaneous presence of a voice which we could liken to that of Cide Hamete Benengeli as it attempts to introduce the humorous play on the concept historia, typical of many comments in the Quixote, and a sober voice reminiscent of that of the Canon of Toledo, which abruptly cuts short the development of the humorous equivocation to offer in all seriousness the Aristotelian definition of the verisimilar plot—i.e., the plot of the Persiles itself. Similarly the two voices are audible in the commentary interspersed amid Periandro's narration, in which we discover support for both the freely inventive narrator and his pedantic critics. It is illuminating to trace the vicissitudes of the authorial voice through the Persiles, for a pattern quickly emerges which parallels that which we have observed in the dramatic examinations of literary theory in the scenes analyzed above. Corresponding to the opposing tendencies that mark the critical exchanges between the participating authors and their critical audiences is an ambivalence at two levels in Cervantes' use of the narrator of the Persiles. One lies in Cervantes' conflicting notions concerning the general role of the narrator and the extent to which he is allowed to intervene in his narration. Here the opposition is between the neo-Aristotelian conception of the narrator's limited function and the conception of the narrator, exemplified by the romances of chivalry, as a vehicle for widely ranging, discursive commentary. At the same time there is an ambivalence within the voice of the narrator. In his various commentaries which are informed by literary concerns we observe once again the recurrent literary debate which we have traced through the Quixote and the Persiles, from its most discursive 257 Cervantes & the Classical Aesthetic formulation in the argument between Don Quixote and the Canon of Toledo to its most dramatic presentation in Periandro's narration. AMBIVALENCE CONCERNING THE RANGE OF PERMISSIBLE COMMENTARY The Restrained Narrator and Classical Literary Theory Throughout the first book of the Persiles the narrator seldom appears in his narration. As has been pointed out above, the work was originally conceived as a continuation of the genre of classical epic poetry and modeled on the celebrated "prose epic" of HeIiodorus . This artistic plan undoubtedly dictated Cervantes' apparent intention of avoiding authorial digressions and dispensing with the discursive fictitious narrator of the romance tradition, which he had so successfully revolutionized in the chronicler of the Quixote. The singer of classical epic is traditionally anonymous, and his appearances in his text are limited to such formalities as proposition, invocation, and apostrophe or to an occasional brief comment on the events of the narration.1 As Robert M. Durling has recently pointed out, Tasso, whose precepts and example seem to have influenced Cervantes' plan of the Persiles, was led by his theories and his desire to re-create the classical epic to the resurrection of the anonymous narrator of Homer and Virgil.2 In addition to the example of the ancients, Aristotle's words on the role of the narrator had to be reckoned with by all artists of the Renaissance. One of the widely divulged parts of the Poetics, the impact of which can be assessed properly only if we situate it beside the theorists' outspoken veneration for the classical epic, was Aristotle's statement of praise for Homer: "Homer, admirable in all respects, has the special merit of being the only poet who rightly appreciates the part he should take himself. The poet should speak as little as possible in his own person, for it is not this that makes him an imitator."3 Thus El Pinciano can repeat the injunction: the 1 FOr the limited range of these comments, see Richard Heinze, Virgils Epische Techni\ (Leipzig, 1908), pp. 368-373. 2 The Figure of the Poet in Renaissance Epic, p. 185. 3 Poetics, XXV/, p. 93. In rejecting the narrative technique of the verse romances, Tasso writes: ". . . ne il principe dei poeti Virgilio, ne Omero, ne gli altri antichi gli [the discursive prologues which often introduce the cantos of the romances...


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